AEDs and WHS

The current model WHS Act states that one of its objects is to

“…protect […] workers and other persons against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination or minimisation of risks arising at work.” It goes on to state that this should be achieved through ensuring that workers are “given the highest level of protection […] as practicable.”

The current state of the discussion between organisations like Australian Hearts and the government is such that an argument is being put forward that this strongly implies that AEDs should be mandatory, at least in high risk workplaces. The argument, while not clear cut, is a compelling one. Given the ease with which they can be operated – a 100% success rate was achieved with a class of 12 year old children during an American simulation – and their clear and amply demonstrated role in significantly increasing survival rates from cardiac arrest, an interpretation of the phrase ‘highest level of protection’ practicable as including AEDs is a persuasive one.

The various pilot programs, both domestic and international, have resulted in unequivocal success in significant reductions of SCA fatalities. Couple this with the language of the US Cardiac Arrest Survival Act 2000, where federal workplaces are “encouraged to act as an example to private industry” and it might be reasonable to suppose that AEDs are generally considered to be a highly desirable component of workplace safety equipment.

Given this, it can be thought of as reasonable to suppose that an ideal workplace configuration in compliance with the ‘highest protection’ standard would include AEDs.

Risk Assessment

The Worksafe Guidelines are helpful in identifying workplaces at greater risk. Regulation 42 of the Code of Practice provides guidance for hazard identification methodology.

First and foremost, ‘high risk work’ is defined as anything which involves the use of potentially hazardous chemicals and/or equipment, or work which is conducted in hazardous environments. The Code identifies forestry, construction, and manufacturing as industries which routinely conduct high risk work, but there are also less obvious factors to consider. Isolated work, or late night work is identified as being of greater risk, owing to the increased likelihood of violent incidents, psychological harm (a factor in SCA), or unsupervised activity .

Traffic and turnover are also identified as risk factors. The Code identifies high turnover and rapid processing as being more likely to cause harm as these significantly increase the probability of human error. This is especially relevant in enterprises which handle foodstuffs, heavy items, work with electricity, or a host of other potentially hazardous activities.

The full guide can be accessed here:

These examples and guidelines are not, however, comprehensive. When assessing risk for cardiac arrest, the safety professional must take into account that an SCA can occur for any number of reasons, and that there is no individual who is at zero risk of cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, over 50% of SCA sufferers had no prior indication of a cardiac problem. This means that in terms of their own personal assessment of risk, not to mention formal risk assessments, there were no discernable factors indicating heightened risk of cardiac arrest. Couple this with up to 33000 annual cardiac arrest related fatalities in Australia alone, and it can be seen that SCA is, in fact, the country’s biggest killer, and capable of striking without warning.

Cardiac arrest can be triggered by electrical transmission, trauma, anaphylactic response, heart attack, or undiagnosed cardiac conditions . The likelihood of cardiac arrest can be increased by stress, acute or unusual exertion or physical activity, high or increased noise levels, stress, environmental factors such as smoke or particulate, and a whole host of other hazards and conditions .

Given these factors, some key questions for employers are:

1. Do we have a high concentration of workers in a single location?
2. What are the ambulance response times for our location(s)?
3. Is employee/guest/bystander physical exertion a factor?
4. Are there sudden spikes in activity or stress level?
5. Is our enterprise such that high stress/tempo/pressure work is regularly conducted?
6. Have new conditions arisen since our last risk assessment?
7. Do we employ or serve anyone in a high cardiac risk category?


If you would like to read more please download out whitepaper by clicking here. AEDs, liability and the law March2019